Friday, July 24, 2009

Ger Visits - Mark's POV

The Peace Corps spends quite a bit of training time teaching us about “ger etiquette”. Enter the ger and move clock-wise, never touch the top of the entry way, try not to trip on your way in (and most definitely don’t trip on the way out – the symbolism is much more severe), don’t walk between the support posts or between the posts and the cooking stove, and attempt to gauge both your age in comparison to other guests as well as your status amongst the visitors as these will determine your seating order. These all happen within 30 seconds of visiting a ger…and the remaining rules play out over the course of your visit.

That’s a quick overview – so let’s move on to my specific “ger moments”. My first real experience (read: not a Peace Corps planned visit) occurred maybe 3.5 weeks ago on a day when we awoke to no power in my house. I didn’t think much of it because usually the power comes on within a couple hours and life resumes. However, that day we found ourselves lounging around the house with zero ability to cook (all appliances are electric) and it was approaching 5pm – needless to say I was hungry, my 15 year old host sister was worried, and my 5 year old host brother/nephew was a bit cranky. My host mother comes home from work, throws us in her little car (seriously, it’s like a small version of a Scion XB) and we take off for the south part of town. One of the first things you have to consider when visiting a “hashaa” (picture a fenced-in yard with one or two gers and maybe a house inside) is whether or not the family has a guard dog…there are specific phrases for calling off the dog. When entering the ger don’t forget to consider all of the rules above. In this instance I was just considered a guest who came with my host family so I was given a chair on the west side of the ger. At first I was the only one sitting on that entire side, so needless to say I was being stared at. However, that level of un-comfort was trumped when I quickly learned that we were visiting the ger of one of my mother’s co-workers and we were there simply to “feed the American”. Haha. I was given a bowl of noodle soup that was literally the size of an X-Large bowl at a Pho shop. The rest of the family members were given cups, tea cups. It took me at least 25 minutes to finish my portion.

The next time I visited a ger “unplanned” occurred just last weekend. I believe Kara is going to speak on this visit in more depth – but let’s just say that I was given the most respected seat and along with that “gift” comes a lot of responsibility. I was sitting next to the oldest member of the family and the man who was in charge of pouring the vodka. I’ve already learned quite a few ways to minimize the intake of vodka, so we managed to look culturally sensitive whilst saving our livers. One way is to simply touch the shotglass (think small bowl) to your lips and pass it back to the server. This can work in most situations because it shows that you respect the tradition but simply don’t want to drink too much. Sometimes this doesn’t work and you can just take a small sip and then pass. If this doesn’t work, then you’re in for a long night…but this evening was very short and there was very little pressure. Both Kara and I agree that the evening was a success and a lot of fun overall. But I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it…

No comments: